Tim Barfield gives an overview of the Department of Revenue on Tuesday during a meeting of the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee. (Associated Press)
The fate of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to eliminate state income taxes is in limbo as members of the Louisiana Legislature convene at noon Monday for their fiscal session. (Rick Hickman / American Press)
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 5:29 PM
BATON ROUGE — Most legislators who heard Gov. Bobby Jindal say Monday that he was “parking” his plan to eliminate state income taxes assumed he was handing them the ball. However, a day later he was back in the manager’s box calling the plays.
Tim Barfield, the governor’s point man on tax issues, made it clear Jindal is still in the game.
“My desire and my marching orders are very clear, to work with the bills that are out there to see what we can do with those and it would be my desire to eliminate income taxes,” Barfield told a Senate committee.
You will notice Barfield said it was “my desire and my marching orders” to repeal those income taxes.
The plan Jindal sidelined wanted to raise the state sales tax, tax new services, increase the tobacco tax and eliminate tax exemptions. Now, the administration doesn’t seem to care whether repeal of income taxes has a mechanism for replacing lost revenues. In other words, get it done, whatever the cost.
Why is the governor trying to recapture the tax repeal movement? Only the governor can answer that one, but his rare admission that his plan wasn’t warmly received and that he was putting it aside created a storm of bad publicity for Jindal at the national level.
The governor and his defenders will argue his critics represent the liberal media, and to a large extent they are right. However, the truth hurts, whatever the source.
“What happened to Bobby Jindal?” said a Washington Post headline.
Noting he had dropped his income tax plan, the story said, “That very public failure comes just 16 months ago after Jindal was easily re-elected with two-thirds of the vote against minimal Democratic opposition. What happened? The answer is that the policies that have made Jindal an increasingly attractive national candidate have hurt him back home.”
A recent state poll showing the governor’s approval rating had dropped to 38 percent revealed it is because of drastic cuts to higher education, a redesigned but still unproven health care system, education reform that wasn’t well-received and his plan to raise the state sales tax.
Politico, which covers political news with a focus on national politics, said Jindal’s policies “are aimed more at impressing a national audience than at solving problems at home.”
The Huffington Post said the governor’s “about-face on his signature plan is a huge blow for one of the Republican Party’s top 2016 contenders…”
Bloomberg News said, “In the last 50 years, exactly one U.S. state has repealed a major (personal income, general sales or property) tax: Alaska, following the discovery of massive oil deposits. If you don’t find the equivalent of the North Slope in your state, you shouldn’t expect to get rid of a major tax.”
Broader sales taxes like those proposed by Jindal are better for a state’s economy, but Bloomberg said sales tax expansion efforts have died in the last few years in California, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It’s because people get used to paying no taxes on certain things, the news service said.
Jindal needs to do more than “park” his tax reform plan. He needs to put it in cold storage for another time and tend to the state’s immediate needs.
The Council for a Better Louisiana said the state needs to spend more time analyzing the state’s tax structure before reform is attempted. The short fiscal session doesn’t provide enough time for an effective analysis, CABL said.
Administration spokesmen and some legislators have suggested it would be OK to phase out the income tax over 10 years without worrying immediately about replacing lost revenues. That is a terrible idea when the state is already short hundreds of millions of dollars to fund critical state services.
Talk about a 180-degree swing. The Jindal team has gone from requiring a revenue-neutral tax plan to backing one that has no revenue stream at all.
The solution to what ails Jindal’s political reputation is so obvious he and his advisers either can’t see it or refuse to acknowledge it. The governor is proposing another reduced state budget for the next fiscal year that continues to be based on unrealistic revenue sources and funding that may not be available in succeeding years.
Louisiana has 468 tax exemptions, and the governor wanted to eliminate some 200 of those under his tax plan. Why not go ahead and wipe them off the books and use the revenue that will generate to fund some of those critical state services? Increase the tobacco tax as well. It’s an extremely popular move and good for the anti-smoking effort.
Legislators who were asked for their reaction to Jindal’s opening day address — almost without exception — said they were astounded there was no mention of the state’s budget process that they said is extremely flawed.
Those of us who are paying state income taxes aren’t suffering. We don’t need tax relief, but nearly half of the state’s population is hurting in some fashion. Some of them were here this week pleading their case and asking legislators to shore up a budget that needs some serious funding.
Jindal wouldn’t have to worry about his image or job approval problems if he turned his full attention to Louisiana’s needs.
• • •Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or email@example.com